Sugar overload may kick-start a process called glycation. The theory: When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, the excess sugar molecules combine with proteins, creating “advanced glycation end products” (appropriately referred to as “AGES”), explains Dr. Ostad. Ultimately, AGES may damage your skin’s collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm and youthful).
Unsurprisingly, too much sweet stuff is also bad for your smile. “Sugar sticks to your teeth, encouraging bacteria, decay, and discoloration,” says Brian Kantor, a cosmetic dentist who practices in New York City. If you treat yourself to something sweet, swish water around your mouth afterward to remove any buildup.
A healthy liver means healthy skin. “When your liver is functioning well, toxins that could potentially affect the skin are expelled naturally through your body,” says Dr. Ostad. “But if toxins build up in your liver, and aren’t broken down properly, your skin can develop a variety of issues, like acne, sallowness, and wrinkles.” Drinking can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.
To top it off, alcohol is dehydrating and bad for your sleep, which was associated with accelerated agingin a Case Western Reserve University study. “Inadequate sleep is linked to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin elasticity,” says Dr. Ostad.
White wine falls into its own category because of its surprising dental damage. While a glass of red will give you instant “wine mouth,” the acid in white wine damages your enamel and makes your teeth more prone to longer-lasting stains. So if you always end your day with a glass of chardonnay, your teeth may be more vulnerable to those coffee stains the next morning.
Here’s what not to do: brush your teeth immediately after drinking (same goes for any acidic drink). Brushing already acidic teeth can further the erosion of your enamel. “You need to give your teeth time to remineralize after being bathed in an acidic beverage,” says Maureen McAndrew, clinical professor at the New York University School of Dentistry. “I’d wait an hour after drinking before lifting a toothbrush.”
That black char on your burger? It may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which could present a problem since inflammation breaks down the collagen in your skin, explains Dr. Ostad. You don’t necessarily need to banish BBQ from your vocab, but at least make sure you scrape off the black stuff, and clean the grill afterward so you don’t contaminate your next meal.
You might not cook with salt, but that doesn’t guarantee your intake is low. “Many canned foods are preserved with sodium, which can make you retain water and cause a ‘puffy’ look,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, and dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts.
Think: Deli meat, sausage, and bacon. “Many of these meats have sulfites and other preservatives, which can trigger inflammation in the skin, and accelerate the appearance of aging,” says Dr. Ostad. They also tend to be high in salt, which can make you look puffy. (Not to mention, processed red meats have been linked to heart disease.) Try swapping the deli meat on your sandwich for chicken or turkey. If you can’t say goodbye for good, use less meat, and load up on veggies.
Spicy food aggravates rosacea-prone skin, but it can also do damage during menopause. “It’s believed that the blood vessels in the skin are more reactive then,” says Dr. Ostad. Since spicy food dilates your blood vessels, menopausal women may find their skin looking blotchy and less youthful during this time. Don’t worry about indulging in the occasional spicy curry, but regular flare-ups could lead to spider veins, puffiness, and/or permanent redness, says Dr. Ostad. Order your food mild when possible.
“Fatty meat generates free radicals,” says Dr. Ostad. Free radicals are in search of missing electrons, they snag electrons from healthy cells, damaging them in the process. This damage ultimately affects your skin’s ability to protect itself and generate collagen.
While it’s fine to eat a burger here and there, don’t make it a daily habit. “You’re better off with leaner meats, like a turkey burger or chicken,” says Dr. Ostad. And remember to load up on antioxidants, both in your fridge and in your beauty bag: “Antioxidant-rich foods and serums help combat age-promoting free radicals,” says Dr. Ostad. Look for serums that have vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid).
Energy drinks may make you feel like you have the pep of a kid, but they have a not-so-youthful effect on your teeth. In fact, teeth exposed to energy drinks were stripped of more enamel than sports drinks, according to aGeneral Dentistry study. Energy drinks were also found to be more acidic—no coincidence there. (Remember: Acidity makes your teeth more vulnerable to stains.) If you really need your energy drink fix, sip from a straw: “The less contact with your teeth, the better,” says Kantor.
All citrus wears away your enamel, but lemons may be the worst of the worst: lemon juice created the most dental damage, compared to orange and grapefruit juice, in aGeneral Dentistry study. “Add the sugar in lemonade to the equation, and you have enamel wear from the acid, plus plaque buildup from the sugar, creating stains and decay,” says Kantor. As with energy drinks, sip from a straw if you must.